It’s obvious! How can you not know? Really, it’s so obvious, I can’t understand why you are asking… Oh, wait a minute, you’re not me are you?

We all know things that other people don’t know, and in some cases, we know so much about a particular subject or topic, the knowledge is so “hard-wired” through frequent use it is impossible to conceive of a time when you didn’t know it. This is what Chip and Dan Heath refer to in their book Made to Stick when they talk about The Curse of Knowledge.

The information behind your message probably makes a lot of sense to you because you have been involved in researching and building that information. You’ve actively engaged with it, possibly because you have developed a deep interest in the subject. Your audience on the other hand, hear a lot of information that might be new to them, and they leave thinking ‘what exactly did all that mean?’ If you’ve ever asked a local for directions in a strange town and tuned out when they start naming roads you don’t know, and landmarks you’ve never seen, you’ll know what that feels like.

How to do this will be different for every individual, listening to that same message. This will vary depending on their job role, their level of responsibility, their personality type, their background, their culture, their viewpoint, their preconceptions, their mindset and a thousand of other variables.

Find common ground: This could be a metaphor; ‘this is the same as…’ Or a story; ‘there was a farmer who…’ Or a picture… anything that takes the essence of the key message and makes it easier to grasp.

Use strong and original imagery or illustration: It is too important to go to the first, easiest image that a Google search throws up. Think of how Aesop’s fables express difficult concepts in a simple story…

Give people opportunity to digest: If you do it well, so that people can assimilate and digest the information, you give people the opportunity to challenge you and question what you are proposing. It seems counter-intuitive, but this is exactly what you want. Push back, emotional reactions, rational and irrational arguments, these are all the responses of people who are understanding your message… and understanding and reacting is better than being confused and coming to your own conclusions. Never forget you are dealing with people, and people are emotional beings, even the ones who claim that they aren’t.

Go ARMED: If it’s difficult, go into every explanatory session ARMED. No… not like that… Some years ago, the brilliant and much missed Tom Magdich introduced us, at Purple Monster, to this handy checklist:

  • Attention – catch my attention (“It’s obvious… How can you not know? Really… it’s so obvious…”)
  • Relevance – why is this important for me? (“We all know things other people don’t know…”)
  • Message – what do you want me to know? (“Find common ground to tell your story… anything that takes the essence of the key message and makes it easier to grasp…”
  • Example – what do you mean? (“Think of Aesop’s fables…”)
  • Do – what do you want me to do? (“Do it well, so that people assimilate and digest the information… to challenge you and question what you are proposing…”)

You can’t answer those questions without thinking from your audience’s perspective and that’s a good start. By considering what your audience might think, how you want them to feel and what you want them to do, at least you won’t get undone by the Curse of Knowledge.

If you’re interested in practical tips in how to get your message across, please download our guide below.

References: ‘Made to Stick’, Chip and Dan Heath, published by Random House (2007). ‘Communicate with Charisma’, Tom Bruno Magdich, published by (2013).



ARMED: a handy checklist that you can use to make your message easily understood, increasing your chances of employees taking action.


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